Monday, September 04, 2017

A Visit to Cinecon 53

I spent a wonderful weekend at the 53rd Cinecon Classic Film Festival!

The festival opened at the Egyptian Theatre on Thursday night and runs through today; I attended Saturday and Sunday. Given the high temps here in California this weekend, it was the perfect time for a couple of days in an air-conditioned movie theater!

Cinecon's focus is "not on DVD" rarities, and the schedule was filled with little-seen gems. I'll provide a quick overview of the weekend here, with longer posts in the next few days covering some of the films in more detail.

I was on the freeway to Hollywood bright and early Saturday morning, arriving at the Egyptian about 8:15. My first order of business: Pick up my weekend passes and purchase the beautiful program featuring festival honoree Patricia Morison on the cover. Needless to say I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing Morison in person again at the festival; you can read my birthday tribute to her earlier this year here.

My day began with the cartoon THE DAFFY DOC (1938), which I understand is part of the Warner Archive's new Porky Pig DVD collection.

That was followed by a 62-minute feature film, ALL-AMERICAN SWEETHEART (1937). This film, about a collegiate rowing team, was only mildly entertaining, the one movie of the weekend which didn't really make an impression. However, it was pleasantly scenic (Lake Arrowhead, perhaps?), and it was shown in a gorgeous Columbia Pictures print, so there's that! Patricia Farr and Scott Kolk (aka Scott Colton) starred; it was directed by Lambert Hillyer, the writer-director behind a number of Westerns I've enjoyed.

Next up was a silent Hoot Gibson Western, THE TEXAS STREAK (1926), with live musical accompaniment by Scott Lasky. Gibson plays a Western movie extra who's left behind when location shooting wraps, and circumstances lead to him switching from "reel" to "real" cowboy. A charmer.

The final film of the morning was the U.S. premiere of the new documentary HAROLD LLOYD: HOLLYWOOD'S TIMELESS COMEDY GENIUS (2016). It was very good, including extensive interviews with Lloyd's granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd and his biographer Annette D'Agostino Lloyd (no relation to the actor). Although it discusses the creation of Lloyd's high-altitude SAFETY LAST! (1923) stunt at some length, the one area where I felt the documentary was lacking was covering the success of his silent features. (Perhaps my memory fails but I don't recall a single shot of Jobyna Ralston, his costar in so many great films.) It zoomed from shorts to stunts, spending more time on his feature failures than his hits, and then going into his post-filmmaking life. Despite that quibble, it was well-done and worth seeing.

At lunchtime I visited the dealer showroom at Loew's Hotel, where my eyes crossed at the prices of original film stills. I have a wonderful collection, gathered in the '70s and '80s, but don't anticipate adding to it again at those prices! Instead I treated myself to a Blu-ray/DVD set of CINERAMA HOLIDAY (1955), on sale at Flicker Alley's table for a nice price.

Back at the Egyptian, I had a nice chat with Lou Sabini, who autographed his new book SEX IN THE CINEMA: THE 'PRE-CODE' YEARS 1929-1934 for me. It's a survey of 107 pre-Code films, published by Bear Manor Media. I wish I'd remembered Sabini was the author of BEHIND THE SCENES OF THEY WERE EXPENDABLE: A PICTORIAL HISTORY, which I thought was an important piece of film history. I would have liked to compliment him on it in person!

My first film of the afternoon was THE ACCUSING FINGER (1936) starring Marsha Hunt. Marsha was in the audience to watch the film with us; how remarkable to watch an 81-year-old film with the leading lady present! Marsha turns 100 in October. That was followed later in the day by a 77-year-old film with the 102-year-old leading actress in the audience, with Patricia Morison on hand for UNTAMED (1940).

An hour of Hal Roach shorts included the silent Our Gang film BABY BROTHER (1927), with Oliver Hardy popping up for a scene. It was quite amusing -- I loved the "automatic baby washer" -- although it was a bit, er, surprising how the very real babies and toddlers featured in the movie were treated at times! Scott Lasky provided live music.

The afternoon wrapped with the premiere of a trailer for the upcoming documentary REEL HEROES; the trailer will soon be added to the film's website and I encourage my readers to take a look. The documentary is about film collectors who were at one time persecuted/prosecuted for saving films from dumpsters and destruction -- our Lone Pine acquaintance Woody Wise is quoted in the trailer as saying a prosecutor wanted to jail him for a year -- who are now lauded as preservationists by the same studios who once wanted them arrested.

The evening's "Saturday Nitrate Fever" program began with a Technicolor nitrate print of the Bugs Bunny cartoon HARE RIBBIN' (1944). This was a director's cut with a more violent ending than is in the theatrical release version. I don't think either BABY BROTHER or HARE RIBBIN' could be made these days!

My evening wrapped up with a nitrate Technicolor print of Paramount's UNTAMED (1940), starring Ray Milland and Patricia Morison, who was interviewed after the film. The movie was an engrossing soap opera, with a fine cast and strong production values, and it was a treat to hear Morison's memories, particularly that the movie's blizzard scenes were filmed in a genuinely cold Los Angeles area ice house!

I hadn't been especially interested in seeing the Library of Congress restoration of CAPTAIN BLOOD (1924) Sunday morning, but I needed to arrive fairly early if only to secure nearby parking, so I decided to try it out -- and it ended up being a highlight of the festival for me, with remarkable digital musical accompaniment by Jon Mirsalis. I love seeing a movie "cold" and ending up being completely transported. It was a wonderful experience.

After lunch I watched a program of silent "Fort Lee" shorts, filmed in New Jersey in the early days of movies, including Florence Lawrence in NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS (1912) and FLO'S DISCIPLINE (1912). It was a great chance to learn about Lawrence, sometimes called "the first movie star." Ben Model provided the musical accompaniment.

Unfortunately I was feeling under the weather as Sunday went on and had to head for home before some of the "B" movies I was looking forward to, including a couple of '40s Westerns. Despite having to cut it a bit short, it was a terrific festival, and I'm definitely looking forward to attending it again in the future!

Update: Here are my reviews of THE ACCUSING FINGER (1936) and UNTAMED (1940).

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